It’s a snippet of conversation I had a few weeks ago with a friend. Sitting across the table with beers and dry ribs, it was the first time we’d gotten together like that in more than a year. A lot can change in a year, and for me it was one in which I became increasingly entrenched in the post-charismatic camp. For him, it was a year overseas, away from church, family, and friends. He has an occasional habit of recording sermons by a local pastor at another church when they air on television, and sometimes he ends up recording the program that comes on afterward as well. The second program was our seguay. The preacher is head (I would say pastor, but it’s more a CEO thing) of one of the biggest churches in town, and it’s one with a prosperity stripe.
He told me that he didn’t agree with everything the guy said, but that he was a good preacher and had some good things to say in his messages. My response was probably written on my face. Sometimes it’s hard for me to let stuff like that go by without comment or without logging a reaction of some kind. Perhaps it’s that I no longer care enough about suppressing it. And this guy I don’t have much respect for. The preacher, I mean, not my friend. This friend is one of my oldest. Not that he’s one of the oldest, but that… oh, never mind.
So in reply to his inquiry following my unspoken reaction, I told him that one of two things were true. Either that preacher and I were not serving the same God, or else one of us didn’t know him.
“That’s harsh,” he replied.
I agreed that it was, but said I stood by it.
Now, is my statement too harsh, or is it warranted? In my view, the prosperity gospel is a clear distortion of what Jesus taught, and a gospel corruption of fairly mammoth portions. It’s all well and good to say that people in the Word/Faith or Prosperity movement are our brothers and sisters in Christ, but at the same time their message is so fundamentally different at its core than what I understand of the gospel that it gives me pause. Yes, I’m sure we would both affirm the same basic tenets of the faith… but how far beyond that? In my view, their message is actually a damaging one. I want to live and let live, but when the message causes harm to others, I have a much harder time ignoring it as though it were innocuous.
In the case of the prosperity gospel — or many charismatic, or fundamentalist forms of the faith — there is an adding to the gospel, so that the words of Jesus and the simplicity of “his yoke” are not enough in the view of these preachers and church communities. Didn’t Paul have some very harsh words for the Galatians over just this same essential point?